Julian Huppert MP writes…An update on the Justice and Security Bill

The Government has today published their amendments to the Justice and Security Bill for Report Stage, following the strenuous efforts Mike Crockart and I put in during the Committee. And they have clearly made significant concessions to us as a result of the things we demanded.

First, there is a provision to make sure that Public Interest Immunity is looked at before a judge is allowed to consider a Closed Material Procedure. This was taken out by the Government during Bill Committee. Mike and I tried to put it back in, and it looks like the Government has accepted our point.

All along we have said if the real reason for this Bill is to try cases which would otherwise not be triable, then the judge has to be satisfied that PII – the existing procedure – could not be used. This amendment – together with the key amendment that colleagues forced through in the Lords which gives the judge complete discretion over whether or not a CMP should ever be allowed – should make sure that this is the case.

PII itself isn’t perfect, as it results in information being completely suppressed, for example the Litvinenko case.

But Conference was clear that they support it. And through this amendment and the Lords amendment together, we have given utter discretion to the judge to require PII first, and indeed to exhaust the PII process if they think it’s the right thing to do.

Second, the Government has put forward amendments to require a complete review of CMPs every five years, and a yearly requirement for a report on the operation of CMPs.

Again, Mike and I pushed this on the Committee. As a firm believer in the need for an evidence base for any legislation, my concern has always been that with this type of legislation you are dealing with legal hypotheticals. The requirement for reporting and reviewing will allow us to scrutinise whether the cases which the Government claims require a CMP really do exist, and it will let us review their operation. If the number of cases is higher than claimed – if the type of cases tried turn out to be inappropriate – we will know that and be able to get rid of it.

Third, there is a new amendment to ensure complete equality of arms. There are cases where the non-government party may wish to be able to use secret information in their case, even if the government doesn’t want to – for example, a former intelligence officer may know for a fact that the Government has a document supporting their case against the Government, and wants to use it in court rather than having it silenced by PII. This was another key measure that was voted in in the Lords, and the Tories tried to wriggle out of it on Committee. We argued at length that true equality was needed – and they have now conceded that.

Liberal Democrats at Conference made clear that the existing Bill stacked all of the odds in the Government’s favour – they could simply choose whether or not to use a CMP if it is in their interests; if they wanted to hide something.

There is now complete judicial discretion, plus a requirement to consider PII first. But this amendment also means that if it is in their interests, the claimant can call for a CMP. The judge will have the power to choose whichever procedure they think is most appropriate, but both sides will now have the power to petition the court for whichever procedure is in their interests. Lord Lester emphasised how vital this was to Ken Clarke, and it will now be in the Bill.

Finally, the Government has retained a provision – agreed in the Committee in the Commons – to require the judge to force the case into open court if they think partway through that it would be fairer. The concern has always been that once the case is closed down, the judge’s hands are tied. This provision gives a new power for the judge to end a CMP if it is not fair, given how the case is going. For example, if the judge thinks that the CMP means an individual has not been given sufficient evidence or gisted evidence to hear the case against them, or if they think the CMP is merely being used to hide embarrassing information rather than allow a trial where one would not otherwise be possible, they can end it and force the case into open court.

The Government has said that the Bill is intended to only try cases which would otherwise not be triable. By not having equity of arms, by not having judicial discretion, by not looking at PII first, by not providing for CMPs to be reviewed and by not giving the judge the power to end a CMP, the Government claims seemed utterly baseless and our Conference voted as such.

Clearly, Lib Dems will still have major concerns, and we’ll see what happens during the Report Stage debates. I want, for example, a concrete guarantee that this Bill does not and will not affect confidentiality rings – a new issue that Jo Shaw and others have raised with me. And better lawyers than I will I’m sure go through the exact wording with a fine toothcomb.

It seems to me that these amendments are a significant step forward – though from a place we would never start.

* Julian Huppert is Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.
Bookmark the web address for this page or use the short url http://ldv.org.uk/33442 for Twitter and emails.
Advert

10 Comments

  • Will be doing a response to this. On a reading of the government amendments equality of arms (the right to request a CMP) is not present on the same terms for everyone. So the government gets one rule for itself, and another for the civilian. Quite wrong.

  • Why are you wasting time on this bill? What convincing argument has been put forward for CMPs which doesn’t end up being “boo hoo hoo all these people we got tortured are suing us boo hoo hoo”

  • Andrew Suffield 28th Feb '13 - 11:08pm

    Why are you wasting time on this bill?

    Because Labour and the Tories will vote it through with or without us. We can try to make it acceptable or let it pass as an utter disaster.

  • Astonishingly I have just heard that the Report and 3rd stages of this wretched Bill have been rushed forward to Monday and Thursday (4th and 7th) instead of Thursday and Monday (7th and 11th March) as was originally planned to avoid the possibility of a further motion at our Spring Conference during the weekend between the two original dates for debate! What on earth is going on?

  • Richard – I agree

    Jo – do you need an answer to that question. That’s spoilt the mood somewhat.

  • Sadiq Khan, Labour’s justice spokesman, said the proposals weakened ‘the principle of open justice on which the credibility of our entire legal system depends’ and would ‘shroud our justice system in secrecy’.

    Yeah, that really sounds like a party that will unconditionally support this horrible proposed law.

  • “It seems to me that these amendments are a significant step forward – though from a place we would never start.”

    But leaving the fine-tuning aside, it sounds as though you are going to vote in favour of secret courts. Why?

  • A good day to bury bad news?

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

*
*
Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?

Advert



Recent Comments

  • User AvatarMartin 30th May - 11:15pm
    Matthew: The tuition fees issue cannot remain where it is, even though opponents and critics seem to think it will. Both Labour and Conservatives will...
  • User AvatarShirley Campbell 30th May - 11:14pm
    Thank you Ashley. I live, in hope, that your voice speaks for many of the silent of my generation and beyond: Ashley 29th May '15...
  • User AvatarNot Who I Say I Am 30th May - 10:43pm
    Martin 30th May '15 - 6:54pm Martin, one of the rules of the LDV site is for contributors to be who they say they are....
  • User AvatarGareth Epps 30th May - 10:40pm
    Did I ever tell you about the band I was briefly in.......?
  • User AvatarDavid Howarth 30th May - 10:14pm
    So you are just a power worshipper then. You don't seem to realise that you are rejecting not just international human rights law but the...
  • User AvatarDavid Cooper 30th May - 10:03pm
    @David Cooper "You believe that might makes right" No. But I believe might, whether right or wrong, so comprehensively trumps international human rights law that...
Sat 30th May 2015
Sun 31st May 2015
Mon 1st Jun 2015
Tue 2nd Jun 2015
Wed 3rd Jun 2015
Thu 4th Jun 2015
Fri 5th Jun 2015
Sat 6th Jun 2015
Mon 8th Jun 2015
19:30
Tue 9th Jun 2015
Wed 10th Jun 2015
Thu 11th Jun 2015
Fri 12th Jun 2015
Sat 13th Jun 2015
Wed 17th Jun 2015
Thu 18th Jun 2015
Sat 20th Jun 2015
Sun 21st Jun 2015
Thu 25th Jun 2015
Fri 26th Jun 2015
Sat 27th Jun 2015